'Truth tools' created by an esafety project are shared on a new website. John Galloway reports
It isn't cynical to say, "Don't believe everything you see online." In fact, perhaps we should be saying it more often. The internet has some great content, but how can we tell whether it is fact, or whether we are being manipulated and fed propaganda for dubious ends?
Digital Disruption, a new website launched today (February 21), lays bare the techniques of propaganda so that web users, in particular young people, can better evaluate what they see online. Based on three years work with young East Enders in London's Tower Hamlets, it provides a set of tools and resources for learning about how our thinking can be manipulated by those with devious intent.
In the initial stages of the project a video was produced developing an urban myth about a vampire on the loose in Bethnal Green. The team that created it, including several young people from the area, then explored how viewers, many of them their friends, where persuaded of the possibility that it might be true. Using this knowledge, other films have since been made that reveal the techniques of the propagandists, such as how the look and feel of a film can give it an air of veracity.
With funding from the Nominet Trust, and a partnership with the think tank Demos, following the publication of its Truth Lies and the Internet: A Report into Young People's Digital Fluency, the outfit behind the project, Bold Creative, has created this dedicated site, with lesson plans and teaching materials. Already trialled in five areas – Tower Hamlets, Dover, Liverpool, Bradford and Roehampton – it is now being rolled out across the country.
Demos esafety research finds young people vulnerable and teachers ill equipped
The Demos research warns that more should be done to equip young people for potential online dangers. It found that fewer then one in 10 young people ask who made a website and why. And 99 percent of teachers surveyed were worried about their pupils’ judgement when it came to digital materials, and they felt that teachers have insufficient resources and training to provide effective help.
The Digital Disruption materials target 11 to 18-year-olds who are often confident, but not competent internet users. They can be used by teachers in school, for example as part of a citizenship lesson, or in an ICT class, or in less formal settings such as youth clubs. Many of the young people involved in developing them have already run workshops to help raise awareness that not everything online can be trusted.
“We want to take young people out of the ‘echo chamber’ effect,” explains Martin Orton of Bold Creative, referring to one of the seven common techniques of propaganda where repetition by peers moves viewers to adopt a particular position. Each technique is explained through a short animation on the website. “It is a campaign to raise awareness of subjective truth online,” he says.
As they use the site, teachers can share their ideas and feedback on how they would like it to develop. A "Click and Share" tool will let them highlight examples they have come across to colleagues in other schools.
As the campaign continues to develop, social media, such as Facebook, will be used to spread the word further, all as part of developing what Orton refers to as "digital fluency" – "finding and evaluating information online". It’s not just about being consumers though. Ultimately he wants to see, “Young people expressing themselves with confidence in the public sphere.”
John Galloway works as advisory teacher for ICT/SEN and inclusion in Tower Hamlets, London, and as a freelance writer and consultant. He is the author of Harnessing Technology for Every Child Matters and Personalised Learning and runs his own blog.